The second vacancy among judges on the 20th Judicial Circuit has been filled.
Gov. Mike Parson recently announced the appointment of Assistant Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Houston as associate circuit judge. Houston, 39, of Pacific, will replace Judge David Hoven, who retired Jan. 31 before he reached mandatory retirement age in March.
“I’m honored by the faith and confidence the Governor had in me to do this job,” Houston told The Missourian. “I’m proud to have the privilege to serve the citizens of Franklin County.”
Houston started with the prosecutor’s office in 2015. He began in the office’s entry level “traffic and misdemeanor” position, before moving to domestic violence prosecutor and his current position as a felony attorney in 2018.
“I handle all kinds of felony questions,” he said.
Houston has a bachelor of science in criminology and criminal justice from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, as well as a law degree from the Saint Louis University School of Law.
Houston’s first job practicing law was in family law in 2013 before becoming a prosecuting attorney.
Originally from Oakville, in south St. Louis County, Houston moved to Pacific more than four years ago.
He worked his way through his undergraduate years in college as a full-time police dispatcher for St. Louis County.
“It was amazing,” he said. “It was my first introduction to working in public service. It was stressful but very rewarding.”
The position introduced Houston to other dispatchers who have gone on to become police officers and remained friends, he said.
Houston became a prosecutor because he wanted to “stick up for victims,” he said. “After that exposure working as a police dispatcher, I took 911 calls, and it felt like a position where I could really make a difference,” he said.
When the judgeship came open, Houston said he applied because it was a role where he could continue his commitment to public service but make even more of a difference. He was one of four applicants for the job, according to the governor’s office.
“I’m proud to have served the citizens of Franklin County in the role that I’m in, and I’m honored to have this opportunity to further that,” he said. “I want to treat everyone with respect, everyone that comes in the courtroom. ... As a judge, we have a duty to protect, not just the rights of criminal defendants, but also those of crime victims. That’s very important to me.”
Houston said another priority will be to address the backlog of cases due to COVID-19. “Time is a very important resource, and I want to make sure it is used as efficiently as possible,” he said.
Houston will be sworn in at 3 p.m. Feb. 18 by Presiding Judge Craig Hellmann in the old courthouse. Hellmann was elevated to presiding judge after the retirement of former Presiding Judge Ike Lamke, who stepped down Dec. 15, five days before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Houston will run for a full term this year.
Houston was “humbled” by the support he received from colleagues in the prosecutor’s office, as well as people in law enforcement, he said. He added that it has been about 30 years since a former prosecutor had moved into a judicial division that hears criminal cases in Franklin County.
“There was a real outpouring of support because of that, I hadn’t really anticipated,” Houston said. “I’m very grateful.”
Houston credited Franklin County Prosecutor Matthew Becker and everyone in the office with helping him reach this point.
“It’s a real team environment,” Houston said. “They all help each other and bounce ideas off of each other. Matt Becker has been a great prosecutor to work for, and has really worked to help make sure he develops everyone here as attorneys.”
Becker said the reasons Houston will be so difficult to replace are the same reasons he will make a great judge.
“He is one of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever been around as a professional,” Becker said. “He’s going to be hard to replace, but he is going to do a fantastic job as a judge.”
Houston prosecuted the first two criminal jury trials in the county since they’d been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. Both resulted in convictions.
Parson previously appointed Ryan Helfrich, of Washington, to take Lamke’s circuit judge seat. Helfrich also plans to run for a full term this year.